No. 25 Arkansas rides momentum into matchup with injury-plagued LSU

Field Level Media

November 10, 2021 at 10:08 am.

Arkansas is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2016.

The 25th-ranked Razorbacks (6-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) hope to accomplish much more beginning with their matchup at LSU (4-5, 2-4) on Saturday night.

Second-year coach Sam Pittman said Arkansas’ 31-28 victory against ranked Mississippi State last Saturday felt like winning the Super Bowl.

“We’re both eligible and very, very, very excited to know that we’re going to play in December or January,” Pittman said.

The Razorbacks were highly rated after a 4-0 start that included wins against then-No. 15 Texas and then-No. 7 Texas A&M.

However, a 37-0 loss at then-No. 2 Georgia started a three-game losing streak that pushed Arkansas off pollsters’ radar. But two straight wins, including last week’s victory against the Bulldogs, who were No. 17 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, have Arkansas on the CFP list at No. 25.

“There’s no question in my mind we deserve to be in the Top 25,” Pittman said. “Now it’s hard to stay there and all those things, but we’ve beaten (Nos.) 7, 15 and 17 at the time.”

Running back Dominique Johnson, making his first start of the season last week, rushed 17 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning, 4-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left.

Pittman said Arkansas “probably” will give Johnson “a few more” carries than 17 in games going forward.

The Razorbacks were balanced as KJ Jefferson completed 19-of-23 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown.

“KJ, he really has gotten better,” Pittman said. “He’s poised. He’s a heck of a quarterback.”

One area where Pittman would like to see his team improve is penalties. The Razorbacks were penalized 11 times for 84 yards against the Bulldogs, and they rank in the bottom three in the SEC in penalties per game (8.6) and penalty yards per game (71.3).

LSU, on the other hand, averages the fewest penalty yards per game (31.4) in the country.

But the injury-plagued Tigers are struggling in a lot of areas, though their defense showed drastic improvement in a 20-14 loss at No. 2 Alabama last Saturday.

“Well, it was LSU-Alabama,” Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said. “We knew we had to play lights-out just to stick with ’em, and we were prepared to do that.”

LSU and Orgeron reached agreement last month on a buyout that will take place at the end of the season. The Tigers need two wins in their last three games to become bowl eligible and extend Orgeron’s tenure by one game.

“I told (the team) if they play like (they did against Alabama), we could win the rest of our games and get into a bowl,” Orgeron said. “They want to keep on playing. I think it would be good for the team.”

Orgeron said Max Johnson remains the team’s starting quarterback, but against Arkansas he’ll give freshman Garrett Nussmeier “significant snaps at the beginning of the game, and we’ll see how it goes.”

“If Max plays better than Garrett, he’s going to be the starter,” Orgeron said. “If Garrett plays better than Max, then he’s going to be the starter. We’re going to let them battle it out.”